There’s a lot of talk about different kinds of marriage penalties in the tax code (when being legally married puts you at a disadvantage relative to cohabiting and filing separately). They’re well worth addressing, but for the most part, they’re a matter of putting pressure on couples at the margin—marriage means forfeiting a few thousand dollars you may not be able to afford to lose. And we don’t mean to add a luxury tax to marriage!

But, at First Things, I’m writing about the most insidious marriage penalty in our tax-and-benefits regime. For disabled recipients of SSI, marriage doesn’t mean paying more in taxes; it means risking their life by forfeiting skilled nursing help. It means someone who would otherwise be pledging “for richer, for poorer” is instead held to a promise of immiseration.

SSI holds recipients to tight asset limits—$2k for singles, $3k for married couples. It’s obviously cruel and punitive for both single and married recipients. But it represents a much higher barrier to marriage than most “marriage penalties” and strikes at the promise of mutual aid people long to give each other when they wed.

Read more in Other Feminisms.

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